When I started managing, I was focused on things such as ...
- Gaining trust from my team
- Understanding what motivated each one of my team members to work with me and at the company
- Ensuring I knew sales forecasting fundamentals
- Finding scaleable training initiatives
- Managing my time effectively
- Building a team-wide vision and enabling team unity
- Defining (and refining) the right way to onboard new team members
While all of those endeavors were absolutely worthwhile, I realized that all of these things could and would constantly change. People came and went. Processes came and went. Sales targets and forecasting methods came and went. The market and competitive landscape evolved. Even the products and services we were (and are) selling evolved. It was all about change.
The Secret that Will Make You a Better Sales Leader
After going through an intense two-day training on coaching (ironic to have these two words so close together) with Keith Rosen, I learned one "secret" I wish I’d known far before becoming a sales manager. That secret? It's all about how to be a great coach -- which will enables you to be great leader.
How I Knew I Wasn't a Good Sales Coach (Yet)
Having further reflected on my first two years as a sales manager and sales leader, I realized I had coaching all wrong. I realized that I viewed coaching as problem solving -- which is actually more of a training, and sometimes motivation issue -- when in fact I wasn't actually solving problems. Instead, I was only perpetuating a pattern of behavior that made my team more dependent on me, not less.
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I "wrote off" the reality that people needed to hear something five or more times before it actually sunk in. I knew this problem existed because the same problems kept coming up over and over again -- no matter how many group trainings, team meetings, or support resources I developed.
Why? The answer was simple -- I had become the "Chief Problem Solver,” not a coach. I was not empowering my people to solve problems on their own and think critically. Instead, they were relying on me as their safety blanket.
Where Most Leaders and Managers Get Sales Coaching Wrong
I believe a great number of people struggle with this issue, which was validated when my 40-plus peers in the room during Keith's training had this look on their face that said, "Oh no. What have I done? I'm a Chief Problem Solver too!" So if you feel this way, don't have a meltdown.
I also believe most people get sales coaching wrong because they confuse the concepts of training and coaching. Let's break the two apart.
First, training can be loosely defined as the base of knowledge that an individual needs to learn to do their job effectively.
Coaching, on the other hand, isn’t about learning facts, how systems work, what the rules are, and so on. Instead, coaching can be loosely defined as a communication method that connects and engages someone in an empowering manner.
As further defined by Keith Rosen, "[Good coaching is] achieved through a process of ongoing, consistent interaction, observation, and unconditional support in a safe and trusting environment that focuses on the unique and specific needs and talents of each individual in a way that facilitates long-term, positive change."
What to Do Next to Become a Better Coach
First, ask yourself if your team members are repeatedly coming to you the same questions. If they are, you probably have a training or motivation issue. This will need to be resolved either through more structured organizational knowledge transfer or through a truthful conversation about why that team member wants to work at your company.
Second, if you jump to give your team members easy answers, you most likely have a coaching issue on your hands. This clicked for me when I realized that, as a sales rep, I rarely ever gave answers, and instead tried to empower prospects to answer their own questions. But as a manager, I threw that out the window almost immediately without thinking about it.
To get back into the right mindst, think through how you would have acted as a sales rep with a prospect (assuming you took an Inbound Sales approach).
Finally, don't take this advice too literally. Use good judgment. In other words, there will be times your reps need a straightforward answer and coaching won’t be appropriate. For example, don't take the opportunity to coach your team member when she's in the middle of a call and presses "mute" to ask you a question.
Oh, and if you haven't checked out Keith Rosen's blog, you definitely should -- he's an amazing resource in this space.